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EastEnders set rebuild hit by delays and cost overruns

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Coming in 45% over budget and two-years late, BBC is “unable to deliver value for money” on the delayed EastEnders set rebuild, the National Audit Office has concluded.

The BBC’s E20 programme, to replace and enlarge the external EastEnders set and improve various infrastructure at BBC Elstree Centre is now forecast to be two and a half years late and 45% overbudget, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.  

The rebuild comprises a front and back lot, with cost increases stemming from the front lot - which the BBC now estimates will cost £54.7M - £23.5M (75%) more than oringinally planned. Following negotiation and clarification around the Front Lot construction contract, including the type and supply of bricks required, Wates was appointed by the BBC in September 2018 to carry out the work at a fixed price of £24.2M, £9.5M more than the BBC budgeted in October 2015.

Works began on the front lot in October and are expected to be completed in March 2021, 22 months later than originally forecast. 

Delays primarily stem from procurement delays, as limited market interest resulted in the BBC revising its approach; subsequent contract negotiations taking longer than planned; and more realistic assumptions about the time needed to age the newly-built lots.

The design of the set is being undertaken by Aecom, who declined to comment. 

A BBC spokesperson told New Civil Engineer the BBC was keeping the project under close scrutiny. 

“It’s a large, complex project which has already delivered many other vital improvements at BBC Elstree Centre but like any building work of this scale there have been challenges on the way, including construction market issues beyond our control and from working on a brownfield site. As the NAO recognises, we’ve already made improvements and are keeping the project under close scrutiny.” 

In 2013, the BBC first suggested building a smaller set to use during repairs of the main set. These plans were revised in 2015, moving its target completion date to October 2020. The BBC now intends for E20 to be completed in May 2023 - 31 months later than envisaged in its 2015 plans. 

NAO auditor general Amyas Morse said the project would “not deliver value for money”. 

“The BBC will not be able to deliver value for money on E20 in the way that it originally envisaged,” he said.  

“Despite recent project management improvements, E20 is late and over budget against its 2015 plans. We believe that the planned benefits are still broadly achievable but given the high-risk nature of E20 it will need close scrutiny until it is finished.” 

The original set for EastEnders, including the famous Albert Square, was built in 1984 and intended to be used for just two years – but 30 years on the site is no long fit for purpose.  

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